Obama Empowers Enemies and Imperils Friends

First Delta Force Commander, Former US Air Force Vice Chief of Staff, CIA officer and former Congressman discuss current US foreign policy. The American Jewish community needs to wake up and acknowledge Obama's view of Israel.

Matthew M. Hausman, J.D.

OpEds Matthew Hausman
Matthew Hausman

Even after the recent war in Gaza – and in spite of the dangers posed by ISIS and other Islamist forces – many American Jews still do not fully comprehend the risk to Israel and the West of a rejectionist ideology that promotes jihad and genocide.  But the threat is real and arises from a doctrine that demands total submission from the vanquished.  In failing to recognize the scope of the threat, western progressives – Jews and Gentiles alike – view the world as they believe it should be, not the way it actually is.  The reality, however, is that liberal ideals are irrelevant in regions where politics have no existence independent of religion and religion is unforgivingly totalitarian.  

This failure is as much political as intellectual.  Moreover, it engenders complacency with the foreign policy of an administration that has not only failed to respond adequately to the Islamist threat, but whose actions have bolstered fundamentalism across the Mideast and undercut the interests of Israel – America’s only stable and dependable ally in the region.

These points were articulated at a security panel conference entitled, “Israel and the US: The Fight to Save Western Civilization from Global Jihad,” which took place in Massachusetts recently.  The program featured retired Generals Jerry Boykin and Tom McInerney, former CIA Station Chief Gary Berntsen, and retired Lt. Colonel (and former congressman) Allen West.  The program focused on the need to recognize the threat of jihadist extremism, as well as the myriad foreign policy failures that have helped destabilize the Mideast.

Secular progressives have become unwitting foils for Islamist radicalism by their failure to acknowledge its supremacist aspirations and their perception of Muslims as a vulnerable minority despite a global population of approximately 1.6 billion.  This view is a little ironic considering the progressive tendency to disparage Jewish national claims and values and to condemn any perceived Christian intrusion into American politics, but nevertheless to discourage speech that criticizes Islam or mentions any Muslim involvement in terrorism. 

Secular progressives often support anti-blasphemy laws and are quick to label as racists those who criticize Muslims on political grounds, although Islam is a religion and is not defined by race or ethnicity.  Moreover, while they often rationalize Islamist extremism as an indigenous voice of protest against western chauvinism, its ubiquity is the result of conquest, colonialism, and the subjugation of “infidel” minorities.  It is the height of cognitive dissonance when feminists, gay rights activists and other social progressives express support for religious extremists who persecute and kill based on gender, sexuality, and dissenting religious belief or political opinion, but condemn Israel – the only country in the Mideast where minorities have equal rights and protections under the law.  

The threat of a nuclear Iran cannot be minimized, the panel said, noting that it would take only a few nuclear weapons to destroy Israel.
Over the last six years, the administration has sought rapprochement with the Islamic world through a series of questionable policies.  Domestically, it has discouraged official use of terms such as “Islamic terrorism,” instead referring to terror incidents involving Muslims as criminal acts, workplace violence or violent extremism.  On the foreign stage, it enabled the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, provided funding in areas governed by Hamas despite that organization’s stated goals of jihad and genocide, and failed to honor strategic commitments to Israel during the Gaza war. 

Perhaps most troubling, the administration has used the pretense of negotiations to allow Iran to continue its quest for nuclear weapons – to the consternation not only of Israel, but of Saudi Arabia and all Sunni states in the region.  Though it rationalizes that Iran should be permitted to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, critics point out that 55 percent of Iran’s domestic energy comes from natural gas, 42 percent from oil and two percent from hydroelectricity, such that it has no apparent consumer need for nuclear power. Its true intentions are reflected in the statements of its leaders, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who recently tweeted that Israel “… has no cure but to be annihilated.”

Whether promoting Islamists, enabling Iran’s nuclear ambitions, or chastising the way Israel defended herself in Gaza, the administration has pursued policies that have empowered America’s enemies and imperiled its allies.  Furthermore, by drawing meaningless redlines that it refuses to enforce and unilaterally disarming in Europe, it has signaled to the world that it is no longer willing to defend its own interests or those of its allies, but instead will stand aside while Russia, China and other geopolitical rivals assert themselves within traditional U.S. spheres of influence. 

Speaking to a packed house at Ahavath Torah Congregation in Stoughton, Massachusetts, Generals Boykin and McInerney, Colonel West, and Agent Berntsen discussed the weakening of American strength and prestige under the current administration, and how this has enhanced Islamist resolve, endangered the safety of Israel, and compromised American interests around the globe. 

They spoke with inside knowledge of the U.S. military and intelligence establishments and with a deep and abiding respect for Israel.  General Boykin, a 36-year veteran and the first commander of Delta Force, related how he was in Jerusalem last summer when Hamas kidnapped and murdered three yeshiva boys, and how the outrage it spawned illustrated the inevitability of a military response.  According to Boykin, who has spent considerable time in Israel and lived with the Golani Brigade, the kidnapping was the tipping point in a string of events, including rocket attacks against Israeli civilians and the construction of terror tunnels, which necessitated decisive counteraction. 

In the panel’s view, Operation Protective Edge was essential, not only to stop rocket attacks and destroy terror tunnels, but because of the existential implications of radical Islam.  These implications are reinforced by various charters calling for the destruction of Israel and Hamas’s explicit goal of exterminating the Jews, by ISIS’s goal of establishing a caliphate throughout the Mideast, and by Iran’s repeated pledges to blow Israel off the map. Despite political differences between the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, ISIS, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda and Boko Haram, and doctrinal differences between Sunni and Shiite terror states, they all represent the same threat to Israel and the West.

Boykin sees a clear thread connecting past actions against the United States, such as the bombing of the marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 and the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, with the kidnappings and beheadings of westerners today.  Unfortunately, Americans often have a limited frame of reference, particularly in a political climate that shuts down any critical discussion of these issues as “Islamophobic.”  The problem is exacerbated by an administration that appeases enemies and alienates allies and by political elements in the military that lack the resolve to implement appropriate corrective strategies.  In Boykin’s view, the latter problem is related to the exodus of young officers from all service branches in response to cuts in military spending and concomitant reductions in personnel.

The military is being cut back at a time when Islamist extremism is ascending, as demonstrated by the gruesome success of ISIS.  Political and military leaders willfully ignore the ramifications of jihadi radicalism and the need to confront it from a position of strength.  Despite recent acts of terror committed on North American soil, including beheadings and murders by lone-wolf perpetrators and the attack on Canada’s Parliament, the administration refuses to concede any terrorist links.  Indeed, while Canadian Prime Minister Harper proclaimed that the Parliament attack was an act of terror, President Obama would not draw the same conclusion. 

In contrast, Israel knows how high the stakes are because they challenge her very existence.  “Israel has nowhere to go,” Boykin said, and thus cannot afford to be ignorant about the nature of an existential threat grounded in ideology, not geography.  

General McInerney, a former U.S. Air Force Vice Chief of Staff and Vice Commander in Chief of U.S. Forces in Europe, agrees that the battle against Islamists is ideological.  “We have to understand the threat we face [and that] Radical Islam is as dangerous an ideology as Nazism and Communism.”  According to McInerney, Islamism is not a response to western provocations, but derives from Muslim scriptural sources.  Likewise, the jihadist impulse does not arise from economic privation, class struggle or geographic dispossession as western progressives often preach.  Rather, it comes from deeply held religious convictions that must be understood if they are to be confronted effectively. 

In order for this to happen, though, control of the dialogue has to be taken back from those who censor the use of language deemed offensive to extremists and who employ moral equivalency to justify radicalism.  In addition, the dialogue should be purged of intentionally misleading buzzwords that have become commonplace, including such terms as: “occupation,” which refers to the entire State of Israel; “historical Palestine,” which legitimizes a country that never existed; and “proportionality,” which is used to criticize defensive actions taken by Israel, but not the acts of those who attack her citizens and use civilians as shields.

Accusations that Israel’s military responses are disproportionate are particularly galling, especially considering how she routinely sacrifices her strategic advantage by warning civilians of impending strikes ahead of time and by providing aid to those caught in the crossfire.  The unprecedented humanity displayed by Israel during wartime should debunk the ongoing critique of the proportionality of her response in Gaza and her supposed failure to protect civilians.  Such statements bespeak ignorance, bad faith or complicity in advancing anti-Israel propaganda. 

According to General McInerney, the term “proportionality” is simply a euphemism for “not enough Israelis killed” and should be given no credence. Nevertheless, White House and State Department voices seem more vested in chiding Israel for civilian casualties than in blaming Hamas for starting the conflict and using noncombatants as human shields.  The treatment of Hamas as a legitimate political entity defies history, logic and common sense.

The Obama administration’s apparent affinity for Islamists has not garnered it support from the Islamic world, and military reductions on its watch have fostered an image of international weakness.  By unilaterally disarming in Europe, where the U.S. currently maintains almost no tanks or mechanized divisions, General McInerney believes the administration has eroded the deterrent effect of American military strength. 

And by treating Iran, perhaps the largest state sponsor of global terrorism, as a rational partner for constructive engagement, the administration increases the risk of a regional arms race as the Sunni states may be forced to seek parity.  The threat of a nuclear Iran cannot be minimized, the panel said, noting that it would take only a few nuclear weapons to destroy Israel.  To claim that a nuclear Iran could ever be trusted is to ignore the radical ideology that has driven its quest for nuclear weapons since the Islamic revolution in 1979 and its dogmatic fixation on destroying Israel.  It also ignores an Iranian worldview in which the United States remains the “Great Satan.”

The panel’s perspective on the spread of Islamism is buttressed by the long view of many in the intelligence community, but the administration seems to ignore any observations and analyses that do not jibe with the partisan and politicized assumptions underlying its foreign policy.  This is all the more disturbing in light of reports during the ISIS fiasco claiming that President Obama does not read all intelligence memos that cross his desk.

The intelligence angle was addressed by Gary Berntsen, a career CIA officer, former station chief and former counter-terrorism director.  A fluent Farsi speaker, Berntsen directed counterterrorism deployments in response to the bombings of the U.S. Embassy in East Africa and the attacks on 9/11, and is familiar with the evolution of both Hezbollah and ISIS.  Whereas Mr. Obama claimed to have been surprised by the rise of ISIS, Berntsen said that U.S. intelligence has been tracking the faction from which it grew for years; and that despite the president’s attempt to blame the intelligence community for failing to identify the threat, the administration has been fully briefed about the capabilities and resources of ISIS on an ongoing basis. 

Moreover, in evaluating the evolution of ISIS, the intelligence community had a model for comparison in Hezbollah.  According to Berntsen, there were parallels to the growth of Hezbollah, which together with Islamic Jihad serves as the operational wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Hezbollah maintains a standing army, finances its operations through unsavory enterprises and billions in funding from Iran, and serves as a conduit for Iranian-exported terrorism, Berntsen noted.  Moreover, it has insinuated itself in Lebanon, where it persecutes non-Muslims and threatens Israel.

ISIS followed a similar trajectory on its way to amassing a fighting force of some 30,000 men and a large arsenal of sophisticated weaponry.  Initially supported by a number of Sunni states, ISIS has become self-sustaining by reaping profits from banks and oil production facilities it has seized and by stockpiling weapons and hardware taken from routed opponents across Syria and Iraq. 

Though ISIS is certainly a menace that must not be ignored, the United States cannot afford to lose sight of Iran’s influence throughout the region.  Without minimizing the ISIS threat, Berntsen believes that “Iran is the major confrontation state” and that American interests are ill-served by the obsession with concluding a nuclear deal.  The administration appears to believe it can encourage a shift in Iranian loyalty and seems prepared to sacrifice its relationships with Sunni allies, such as Saudi Arabia, in order to do so.  Given that Iran’s official views regarding the United States have not changed, and that it continues to call for the annihilation of Israel, the initiative to flip its allegiance seems grounded in fantasy. 

The panel concluded that the United States and Israel have similar security concerns and identical interests in preserving cultural and political values common to both their societies.  Accordingly, they find the administration’s policies in the region counterproductive and dangerous.

These observations are especially poignant in light of recent events, including continuing criticisms of Israel by the administration and State Department over the Gaza war.  Official malice against Israel seemed incontrovertible after General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently lauded Israel for taking unprecedented steps to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza and stated that the U.S. military would adopt similar strategies for fighting in civilian areas.  The State Department responded by distancing itself from Dempsey’s remarks and denying that they reflected the government’s position. 

Then there were the recent comments from an unnamed White House source who used expletives to describe Benyamin Netanyahu and called him cowardly for failing to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, although the Obama administration discouraged the strike and reportedly leaked sensitive information (regarding strikes on similar sites in Syria) to prevent Israel from acting.  When these comments are juxtaposed against the administration’s failure to contain ISIS and the domestic loss of confidence in Mr. Obama’s ability to protect and defend, the foreign policy landscape looks very bleak indeed.

The American Jewish community needs to wake up and acknowledge the administration’s abandonment of Israel.  Though some Jewish Democrats still contend that Obama “has Israel’s back,” his order blocking shipments of Hellfire missiles and other military equipment to Israel during the Gaza war shows the fallacy of such claims.   Furthermore, his preoccupation with reaching a nuclear deal with Iran – a rogue regime that has repeatedly vowed to obliterate the Jewish State – should give pause to all who profess support for his administration’s intentions regarding Israel. 

The message delivered by the esteemed panel in Massachusetts was that American and Israeli interests are identical when it comes to dealing with global jihad, and that the failure to support Israel will only embolden those who seek to take the fight directly to the United States.  The proof on the ground becomes more apparent with each foreign policy gaffe, and seems to be denied only by those who choose to ignore it or who continue to promote the administration’s regional agenda out of blind partisan allegiance.

The opening remarks of Colonel West, who moderated the panel discussion with wit and insight, actually set the tone for its conclusion.  “America is at a critical crossroads in our global standing,” he said.  “And this is clearly apparent in the Mideast [where] we’re facing a vile existential threat in ISIS.”  The increase in Hamas’s destructive power, the evolution of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and the empowerment of extremists across North Africa have coincided with the administration’s conduct in pivoting U.S. policy away from its traditional interests in the Mideast and undercutting the American-Israeli relationship. 

Nevertheless, Colonel West believes the American people’s bond with Israel cannot be broken by the policies of a hostile administration.  Regarding Israel’s future, he referred to the Book of Yehoshua, which says:  “Be strong and courageous; be not afraid, nor be dismayed; for the Lord your G-d is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua, 1:9.).        

Clearly, Israel cannot place her trust in the Obama administration, but she can still draw strength and inspiration from Yehoshua, whose words have resonated for thousands of years and will continue to do so long after this president leaves office.